County commissioners hold marathon budget meeting; public library makes request

THE SUMMER READING program at the Madison Public Library has returned to normal this summer with activities in addition to rewards for reading. On Monday, children dissected heat-treated owl pellets prepared for this use by Mountain Home Biological. Six-year-old boys William Clem (left) and Tyce Neu were among the children fascinated by what they found in tearing apart the pellets. Last week, Library Director Nancy Sabbe requested continued support from the Lake County Commission so the library can continue to serve the public with programs like this.

In a seven-hour marathon last week, Lake County commissioners received budget requests from all of the entities in the county which annually receive funds and from all of the departments in the county.

The only information commissioners did not receive was annual growth. Commissioners did receive a memo from the state Department of Revenue indicating the Consumer Price Index for taxes payable in 2022 is 1.2%, but this was not reviewed with them.

County commissioners will not know how much property taxes can increase until they know the growth in property tax valuations. Last year, when the budget was developed, then-Lake County Auditor Bobbi Janke indicated property taxes could only increase by $108,250 as a result of CPI and growth in property tax valuations.

Once commissioners have this information, they will be able to determine where to make cuts and how much to draw from the county's cash reserves. Earlier this year, Lake County Auditor Paula Barrick reported the county saw a net gain of nearly $1.4 million in 2020, ending the year with close to $8 million in total fund balances.

The Madison Public Library was among the organizations to seek continued funding from the county. In her letter requesting $20,000 -- an increase of $1,000 over 2021 -- Library Director Nancy Sabbe addressed how the pandemic and internet are changing libraries.

"With the internet, the public library is available all day every day on computers with internet access," she wrote. "The Madison Public Library's virtual branch is home to almost everything that is available in the library building."

In the meeting, she referred to adaptations the library made while closed to the public. However, a new service intrigued commissioners most -- the addition of hotspots to the library collection. Hotspots provide internet access from any location.

"We bought hotspots that people can check out for one week," Sabbe said. "It was slow to get started, but it's very popular now. There's a waiting list."

Commission Chair Kelli Wollmann asked if there was a limit to the number of hotspots the library could get and learned that each costs $150 plus a monthly fee. Wollmann followed up by asking how many Sabbe would like to offer patrons. She indicated she would like three more.

When asked about getting an additional five, she explained the work involved in maintaining hotspots for public use.

"If you want eight and got 10, you could keep two under the counter," Commissioner Dennis Slaughter quipped.

Few county departments asked for budget increases. When they did so, the increase reflected a specific need. Register of Deeds Shirley Ebsen asked to update computer equipment.

Clerk of Courts Linda Klosterman asked for tablets to monitor cameras installed in the courthouse. In addition, she sought to increase the allocation for court-appointed counsel to $225,000. Lake County does not have a public defender and paid $216,197 in 2020.

April Denholm, director of 911, asked for increases to cover continuing education and certifications for staff, and for equipment and maintenance for the dispatch center.

"More equipment means things to keep working," Denholm told commissioners.

The commission budget includes both a state and a federal audit in 2022. The federal audit is required as a result of CARES Act funding received, according to Shelli Gust, commission administrative officer.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of funding leadership training for more employees through the National Association of Counties. Four completed training in 2021. Gust reported the cost would be about $1,600 per employee.

Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Dave Hare asked for funding to trade in the current skid steer for a larger machine, to repave the north and east parking lots, and to have the courthouse tuckpointed and sealed. He asked for $7,000 for the skid steer and $225,000 for repairs and maintenance.

Director of Equalization Rick Becker asked for $21,007 for two pictometry projects and $2,450 for VanGuard Sketch, a program which makes assessing property easier.

Sheriff Tim Walburg indicated his office is using a different company for testing which resulted in an increase of $8,000. He indicated he did not have a quote for the courthouse camera project.

Emergency Management Director Kody Keefer requested around $12,700 for mold remediation in the public safety annex.

As part of her report, Veterans Service Officer Courtney VanZanten indicated the veteran population in Lake County is reported as 983, which brings more than $3.1 million into the county in the form of compensation and pensions.